Thirty Years On: July 1988

July 1988: Halfway through the summer.  Working at the radio station on the weekends and (I think?) at the Victory supermarket on the weekdays.  Meeting up with Chris and Nathan for Flying Bohemians jams, and the occasional road trip to the Pioneer Valley.  Teaching myself how to play decent bass guitar by playing along with various songs and albums, and learning how to write my own songs.  Taking a break from writing the Infamous War Book sequel and focusing on a roman à clef instead that I’d been playing around with, along with the first dribbles of poetry.  Pretty much turning myself into an introvert at this point.

The Psychedelic Furs, “All That Money Wants” single, released ?? July. A teaser single for their new greatest hits album that would pop up in a month or so. 120 Minutes jumped on this one, and so did WMDK. I heard it quite a bit throughout the summer.  I was well aware of the band, but this was when I finally got around to picking their stuff up.

Beat Happening, Jamboree, re-released ?? July. I missed this one when it first came out mid-1987, but by 1988 when Rough Trade reissued it, it was a critic favorite in some weird so-bad-it’s-good sort of way. Not the best singers or musicians, they could certainly write one hell of a catchy tune.  WAMH was all over this album when they came back on the air in the autumn.  I’d like to think they’re to blame for the twee movement of the late 80s-early 90s.

Compilation, Lying On the Floor: The Singles, made ?? July. Chris catches the mixtape-making bug from me, and makes his first one that, in turn, changes the game for me. I note how his mix is essentially really cool songs he likes with a well-balanced flow. By the following month I’d take that into consideration and follow suit.  I certainly liked how he borrowed the Standing on a Beach theme for the title, this time borrowing from the Cure’s “Kyoto Song”.

Crowded House, Temple of Low Men, released ?? July. The second album by Neil Finn and Co. isn’t as big a seller and doesn’t have a stand-out single, but WMDK seemed to love it nonetheless. “Mansion in the Slums” was on their heavy rotation that summer.

Siouxsie & the Banshees, “Peek-a-Boo” single, released 11 July. I’d been a recent fan of theirs probably since 1986 when I heard “Cities in Dust” (and also their excellent 1987 cover of Iggy Pop’s “The Passenger”), but when I’d heard this one — as another useless promo single popping up at the radio station, I should add — it completely blew me away. I HAD to buy this album when it came out.

Joy Division, Substance, released 11 July. Definitely a game changer for me. Thanks to 1987’s New Order album of the same name, I was looking forward to seeing what the band was all about and why all the critics loved them. I instantly fell in love with “She’s Lost Control”, “Transmission” and “Love Will Tear Us Apart” — three songs that deeply influenced my bass playing from then on — but it was the magical desperate beauty of “Atmosphere” that won me over. I couldn’t get enough of that song; it even influenced a scene in the story I was working on at the time. I spent many a summer evening playing bass to Side 2 of the tape (“She’s Lost Control” to “Love Will…”), and by the time I was back in high school, my chops had expanded considerably.

Geinoh Yamashirogumi, AKIRA soundtrack, released 16 July. I wouldn’t see this movie for another couple of years when I was in college, but I distinctly remember watching a Siskel & Ebert episode where they reviewed this movie. I remember it because that was when I first discovered that animation didn’t have to be Warner Bros cartoony or Filmation low-budget crappy. The clip they showed completely blew me away and set the course for my 90s anime obsessions.

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Next Up:  August 1988, in which my writing takes an interesting turn, I make one of my best early mixtapes, and a local band gets me (and a ton of others) excited!

 

Thirty-three (and a third?) Years On: 1985

This past weekend I was falling down the YouTube rabbit hole and stumbled up on one of my favorite Phil Collins songs, “Take Me Home”, from his third solo album No Jacket Required.  One of the wild realizations that occurred to me was that, a little over thirty-three years later, I have visited at least half of the locations in this video, and currently live in one of them.  More to the point, I don’t think the fourteen-year-old me would ever have imagined that ever happening.  Visiting Hollywood, various parts of central and greater London, and living in Greater London was something I’d have wanted to do as a teen but had no idea if it would ever happen.  I just thought of it as a fun pipe dream.

I’ve been thinking about that year lately, actually.  On IHeart80s Radio, they’ve been playing full episodes of American Top 40 (with Casey Kasem hosting), and now and again I find myself listening in, because that was the era I listened to it almost religiously every weekend.  Most of my radio mixtapes from that era came from those shows. That year’s chart-topping sound was an amazing mix of rock, R&B, soul, pop, and everything in between.

It was right at the end of my sucktastic years in junior high and my freshman year in high school, where I hoped my life (social and academic) would be so much better. It would take some time before I finally grew out of the small-town groupthink that I was so desperately trying to fit into and move on to bigger and better things, but for the time being I let myself get more immersed in my radio listening and mixtape-making. I still went to the school dances and hung out with my buddies, but I was there for the tunage, not for the girls. [Okay, that’s a half-truth. I was desperate, but at the same time I knew I was in no good frame of mind to have a girlfriend when I was an overly emotional twit with an overactive and underused imagination. That’s about when I buried myself in my burgeoning writing habit as well.]

I’ll be honest, I was getting sick of all the social drama. So I immersed myself in all the music that I could. If I happened to have money from an allowance (or saved up from my leftover lunch money) I’d head downtown to buy a few cassettes. I’d pick up cheap records at flea markets with my dad. I’d make copies of albums my sisters bought. Anything to buy the new albums that were being played on the radio.

It was definitely a strange time when I didn’t quite know who I was or what I wanted to do, just that I didn’t want to be what I presently was. Listening to the radio was the escape. It was the soundtrack to my writing (my other escape). Music gave me a connection to my classmates in a way that other things like sports and whatever else couldn’t. Even then I was known as the weird kid who knew every song on the charts and a lot of deep cuts on albums. Where the popular kids might not have given me the time of day, they’d ask me about some album or some band and if the album was worth picking up.

In a way, I’m kind of glad that I’ve kept that part of me all these years. I no longer use music purely as a social escape (at least not as much as I did then, of course), but I’m still a Subject Matter Expert for some of my friends. And in this internet day and age, it’s a shared interest that’s brought me all sorts of new friends and acquaintances that I might not have met in a different setting.

And here I am, writing this at home in San Francisco, one of the locations in the “Take Me Home” video I loved so much.

Living in the Eighties

In addition to writing my Thirty Years On series here and listening to my share of 1988 all over again, I’ve been listening to Sirius XM’s 1st Wave station the last few days.  This comes to absolutely no surprise to any of you, of course.  I’m an Eighties kid.  I spent that entire decade in front of the radio making mixtapes, in front of the tube glued to MTV, and Killing Music By Home Taping.

This means I remember a lot of the weird, wonderful and horrible things that went on in the world then.  In a way I’m kind of happy that I’m able to wax nostalgic — not to say ‘it was so much better then’ (it was definitely different, sure, but I wouldn’t say better) but to be able to see the parallels between then and now.

The reign of a useless, mindless, comic relief President (I say, despite stomach churning); the shadow of Russia and the Cold War looming just over our shoulders; the big and small wars taking place in various corners of the world; the groups of whacked-out conspiracy theorists, the fervent believers of pseudo-religions, and the willingly passive followers of evangelism; the instability of unregulated banking; the sexism of the Alpha Male; the terrorist attacks and the plane crashes; the Young Republicans and their drive to Win At Any Cost; American uberpatriotism and self-assigned exceptionalism; the classic situations of jock versus nerd and all its permutations; and of course the punks and nonconformists who were just plain fucking tired of getting broadsided with all of this and refused to play those games anymore.

I try to be positive about it all, to be honest.  There are days where I need to turn off the internet and take a dandelion break, or pull out my journal and bleed out some of my anxiety or frustration.  I don’t become blissfully ignorant about it all, at least not like I did when I was a teenager more interested in music than what went on in the world.  I merely look at it from a different perspective.

I get frustrated that this is all happening again — sometimes with freakish accuracy — but I’ve lived through it already, so I kind of know what’s coming and what to expect.  Because of this I’m not as pessimistic.  It’s all aggravating, yes.  It truly does piss me off that so many get hit with the shrapnel.  But somehow, at some point, it *will* get better if we *make* it get better.

We did it before, we can do it again.

Thirty Years On: Additional 1988 Albums

In going through this project, I came upon a few extra albums where I’d assigned the wrong release date, or titles that I missed due to space.  Here’s a quick 1988-So-Far addendum of further releases that are well worth mentioning.

Leonard Cohen, I’m Your Man, released 2 February. My first experience with this man, interestingly enough, was a punch line from an episode of The Young Ones. Regardless, over the years I went out and bought some used copies of his albums and realized that he really was an amazing songwriter. This album does sound a bit dated, even for the time of its release, but it contains quite a few of his best known songs.

Butthole Surfers, Hairway to Steven, released 29 February. I’d been familiar with this band thanks to their classic “Sweat Loaf” (you know, the “Satan! Satan! Satan!” song). One of those bands that was just so weird and noisy that you either loved them or hated them. WAMH loved the hell out of this band.

The Mekons, So Good It Hurts, released ?? March. I’d hear “Ghosts of American Astronauts” on WMDK and WAMH quite often in the spring of 1988, and the Mekons were always considered one of those ‘must have in your collection’ bands. I finally added them decades later and now I understand why.

Monty Python, The Final Rip-Off, released 22 March. Given that MTV had brought the Pythons to their main programming a year or so previous (and that by 1988 it had become part of the late Sunday night line-up alongside The Young Ones/The Comic Strip and 120 Minutes), a quick and obvious cash-in album was needed. All your favorite silly sketches, all in one place!

The Primitives, Lovely, released 22 March. An absolute classic of a power-pop album and a massive favorite of fans and critics alike. I nearly wore out my copy of this album! “Crash” got heavy airplay on all the college stations, 120 Minutes, and still gets played on 80s stations to this day. Highly recommended.

Public Enemy, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, released 19 April. Rap didn’t get too much play on the stations I listened to at the time, but I was well aware of it, thanks to MTV and a few of my friends who got into it. PE and NWA were the two bands you followed if you wanted to go past the silly or party-oriented hip-hop and start checking out the more serious stuff. I was always impressed by PE’s sound production and how confrontational and intelligent their lryics were.

The Dead Milkmen, Beelzebubba, released ?? May. The 80s had a great wave of goofy and nerdy punk bands that wrote ridiculous yet catchy (and often quotable) tunes, and the Milkmen were probably the most successful at the time, thanks to “Punk Rock Girl” and “Bitchin’ Camaro”.

Ramones, Mania, release 31 May. Quite a few bands decided to release a greatest hits compilation in 1988, and this one’s perfect for your collection…it pretty much contains every hit and deep track you know (and some you don’t) up to that time, released as a double album.

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I’m sure I’ve still missed a few, but I think this fills in quite a few entries that I missed the first time around!

Thirty Years On: June 1988

June 1988:  Junior year is over and done, and after a week or so of relaxing and forgetting about all the frustration and whatnot of school, it’s into Summer Job territory.  I don’t exactly remember which job I had at the time (I’m thinking the supermarket job, if I’m not mistaken), but I know I still had the radio station position on the weekends, and I’d stick with that one at least until the end of senior year.  I’d meet up with Nate and Chris for an occasional Flying Bohemians session, and the various members of our circle of friends would sometimes go on roadtrips down to Amherst and Northampton.  I’d stay up late listening to music, reading, writing, and practicing my bass and guitar playing.  It was a summer of creativity, and one of keeping in touch with friends before they left in a few months.

There weren’t too many exciting releases for this month for my collection, so I ended up spending a lot of time listening to my own collection, or listening to WRSI or WMDK. I also focused a bit more on making more compilations, inspiring Chris to start making them as well.

Compilation: Cimmerian Music, created early June. The third of the three original new mixtapes, this one worked the best. Essentially a sixty-minute tape filled with quiet, moody college rock to be listened to at 1AM when everyone else has gone to bed, this one featured many bands you’d expect: The Cure, Felt, Love and Rockets, and the Sisters of Mercy. Added fun was Gary Wright’s “Dream Weaver”, an oldie but goodie from my childhood that I’d been using as a ‘theme song’ for a story I was writing at the time.

Compilation: Under the Ivy: Unavailable B-Sides, created early June. I started this one soon after the above mix as part of my next wave, and it was inspired by the cassette version of The Cure’s Standing on a Beach from 1986. It’s all single b-sides that were sitting around in my collection that I happened to enjoy, though the mix does get thin near the end. I would make a second version of this title twelve years later in the summer of 2000.

Compilation: Remix I, created early June. This one didn’t hold up well at all over the years (literally — I’d used a crappy low-budget blank tape for this one), and also suffers the same as the above, with too many questionable track choices. I think it was with this one that I realized that maybe trying to make a themed mixtape wasn’t working at all, and that a true mix with varied sounds and styles would work better. I’d return to that idea a few months later, with much better results.

Voice of the Beehive, Let It Bee, released ?? June. Poppy and quirky with just a hint of folk and country thrown in (they kind of reminded me of a lot of bands from the Athens GA scene, but with a flashier presence). This one’s great fun, with a lot of catchy riffs and sassy lyrics. I got to see them live later on in the year at UMass Amherst with a few friends!

Big Audio Dynamite, Tighten Up Vol 88, released ?? June. Mick Jones’ third outing with his post-Clash band was probably their most accessible and groove-oriented, and was a critical and fan favorite. 120 Minutes had “Just Play Music” on heavy rotation for pretty much the rest of the year!

Bongwater, Double Bummer, released 7 June. I wouldn’t hear this for another few months when WAMH came back on the air, but when it did, quite a few DJs loved it. Alternately weird, funny, psychedelic, and fantastic.  I still remember being surprised when I found out its lead singer, Ann Magnuson, was also a well-established Hollywood actress.

The Style Council, Confessions of a Pop Group, released 20 June. Paul Weller’s post-Jam band was one that you either loved or loathed, depending on how much of a rabid fan of The Jam that you were.  During this particular summer they released a moody jazz album that made quite a few fans scratch their heads, but in retrospect it’s actually quite a lovely record.

Information Society, Information Society, released 21 June. Nerdy synth-pop laden with Star Trek samples and incredibly catchy melodies. They’re primarily known for their debut single (above), but the entire album is excellent. [This was yet another ‘borrowed’ album from the radio station, though I believe Chris got his mitts on it before I could! I dubbed it from him over the summer but bought my own copy on cassette a few months later.]

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Next Up: July 1988!

And for a little while, I was falling in love

Magnet recently posted the news that the original four members of A Flock of Seagulls will be releasing Ascension later this month, an album containing semi-symphonic reworkings of their classic early-80s songs. I like what I’ve heard so far, so I’m curious about how the rest of it will sound.

It also got me thinking about the ‘Science Fiction in Music’ panel that I ran at BayCon the other weekend. My idea was to focus mostly on the 90s forward, but I had to at least mention that the 80s were quite full of similar recordings by New Wave and electronic bands such as Duran Duran, ELO, Depeche Mode, Thomas Dolby, and so on.

I was 11 when A Flock of Seagulls’ debut album came out, and I loved the quirkiness of it, that it was so different from the classic rock I’d been listening to for years before.  It was one of the many albums I repeatedly borrowed from our local library.  It sounded amazingly fresh and adventurous.  Sure, it might sound a bit aged now, but considering that synthesizers were usually confined to prog rock virtuosos at the time, this was something brand new. Newer, cheaper keyboards and synths were just coming to the market and new bands — a lot of them based in the UK or Europe — grabbed them fast.

It was timed perfectly with the rise of MTV as a major force in the music industry. “I Ran” became a staple on the channel, even despite its ridiculously low-budget effects (turntable platform, lots of shiny plastic, and a few full-length mirrors) and bizarre hairdos and fashion. It was completely unlike the bro-rock universe of Loverboy, REO Speedwagon and 38 Special, and nowhere near the heavy sounds of Black Sabbath, Deep Purple or Whitesnake.  But it was catchy as hell!  The band also managed to snag a late-night position at MTV’s New Year’s Eve party at the end of 1982. The audience was probably a little too plastered and/or high to be paying much attention, but as a young kid, I thought it was the coolest thing.

Not bad for a concept album about an alien abduction.

Postscript: Mind you, this was a full four years before I ‘discovered’ college radio in spring 1986. During the first year or so of that listening era, I also discovered that a lot of the quirky New Wave stuff that MTV played in those early years was in fact part of this alternative universe by way of being part of the post-punk umbrella. I did a LOT of catching up during that time, digging for those albums and singles, including more albums from this band.

 

Thirty Years On: May 1988

May 1988: A good portion of my closest friends are graduating quite shortly, and will be taking off in various directions for their college careers.  Thus starts the era of me being a moody bastard for about six years.  Meanwhile, after about five years of recording songs off the radio and creating my own proto-mixtapes, I finally decide it’s time for me to create my own mixes straight from my own growing collection.  I call them ‘compilations’ instead of ‘mixtapes’ because it sounds more professional, considering how detailed I get in creating them.  Thirty years later I’m still making them, digitally.

Wire, A Bell Is a Cup Until It Is Struck, released ?? May. The second album in their ‘beat combo’ era, the band moves closer to their eventual electronic experimentation, using samples, loops, and treated instruments. I played the hell out of this album for a good couple of years after it came out.

Colin Newman, It Seems, released ?? May. In tandem with the above, Wire co-lead singer Newman dropped an even more electronic and experimental album. While the Wire album is more rock oriented, this one’s for sitting back and listening.

Heavenly Bodies, Celestial, released ?? May. A somewhat obscure album featuring vocalist and 4AD friend Caroline Seaman (who would pop up on a few This Mortal Coil albums) and a few ex-Dead Can Dance members, it’s a proto-darkwave album with a moody groove to it. “Rains On Me” got some serious airplay on a lot of the college stations when it came out.

Red Lorry Yellow Lorry, Nothing Wrong, released ?? May. The noise-punks from Leeds released an excellent album of sludgy, growling alt-rock that might not have been to everyone’s tastes, but those who did like it (like me) absolutely loved it.

Living Colour, Vivid, released 3 May. Loud, abrasive, political, funky, humorous, and absolutely amazing. Lots has already been said about this album, and it’s all true. I got to see these guys at UMass Amherst in 1989 (it was part of MTV’s college campus tour, with the Godfathers opening up), and they put on one hell of a great show.

Depeche Mode, “Little 15” single, released 16 May. The last single from 1987’s Music for the Masses. It’s also one of my favorite tracks from it due to its amazing dynamics, starting off quiet and delicate and ending up Wagnerian and bombastic. It’s one of those songs you need to hear in headphones to get the full power of it.

Fairground Attraction, The First of a Million Kisses, released 16 May. It took me years to finally buy this album, but I remember the above track getting played incessantly on WMDK and the other AOR stations in the area. A fun and irresistibly catchy tune. The rest of the album is great too!

Compilation: Stentorian Music, created 20 May. The first of many compilations was an ongoing experiment of a themed mix; this one featured songs from groups like The Sisters of Mercy, Love and Rockets, The Cure, and The Screaming Blue Messsiahs among others, and designed to be played loud. It was put on a 60 minute tape and it came out reasonably well, considering.  Not bad for a first try.

Compilation: Preternatural Synthetics, created 20 May. Yeah, even then I knew I was getting a bit ridiculous with the titles, but it was just something for fun, after my titling the old radio mixtapes with corny ‘Love & Rock & Roll’ titles. This one was a 90-minute tape featuring all synth and/or electronic-sounding bands, such as Pet Shop Boys, New Order, Depeche Mode, and so on. It’s a perky mix, and rather enjoyable!

The Timelords, “Doctorin’ the Tardis” single, released 23 May. A ridiculous single from the KLF/Justified Ancients of MuMu/JAMMs/etc. gang.  Mixing Gary Glitter’s “Rock & Roll Part 2” and the Doctor Who theme, it’s one of those earworms that the college crowd loved.

Camper Van Beethoven, Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart, released 24 May. Another college rock band that went from indie (Pitch-a-Tent) to major (Virgin) in 1988, this record was indeed beloved by a quite a few fans, both old and new.  I particularly loved this single, which also got a lot of play on the AOR stations.

Morrissey, “Everyday Is Like Sunday” single, released 31 May. Say what you will about his current nutjob shenanigans, his early post-Smiths records were fantastic. This second single from Viva Hate was another ‘borrowed’ single that popped up at the radio station I worked at. I soon fell in love with the gorgeous deep cut “Will Never Marry”, which would end up on quite a few of my future compilations.

The Sugarcubes, Life’s Too Good, released 31 May. This album was an instant hit for the college crowd, with its eclectic mix of often bizarre lyrics, infectious melodies and the balance of its two lead singers: the pixie-like Bjork and its weirdo horn player, Einar. Not to mention its dayglo album cover! Another band I got to see at UMass Amherst around that time.

Next Up: June 1988!